By Ryan Grim
In These Times, IL
The principal disagreement between libertarians and liberals regarding the expansion and protection of liberty goes something like this. Libertarians argue that the state, broadly understood to include both state and federal governments, is the greatest threat to individual freedom. Therefore the best way to guard liberty is to restrict the power of the state to the greatest extent possible, leaving it only to protect two “freedom froms”—the freedom from force and the freedom from fraud. The rest, they say, will work itself out.
Liberals counterclaim that the libertarian critique ignores the reality of other organized forms of power—such as corporations, private militias and intractably racist state governments—that can infringe on an individual’s freedom. They argue that freedom can only exist fully against the backdrop of some measure of equality and opportunity. Liberalism therefore calls for the expansion of state power based on the belief that such power should be used to create space for and protect individual rights and freedoms. In other words, liberals expect their elected government to provide freedom from oppressive nongovernmental forces and to help guarantee equal access to real opportunity.
But what if the government itself becomes the oppressor?
Eric Sterling, a Reagan-era-drug-warrior-turned-reformer who now heads up the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, refers to what he calls the “drug war exception to the Bill of Rights.” Unlawful searches and seizures are not permitted—unless cops are searching for drugs, which are not legal property and therefore not protected. No self-incrimination—unless it’s a drug test. No cruel and unusual punishment—unless you were caught with cocaine. And so our two greatest bulwarks against tyranny, checks and balances and the Bill of Rights, are out the drug war window.
Eric Sterling video
Sterling provides a thorough and insightful look at mandatory minimums, explaining their creation as "an incredible conjunction between politics and hysteria."